Thanksgiving is the consummate American holiday. Other nations may have celebrations related to the harvest, but they are not specifically "thanksgiving" events. Celebration best describes them.
In fact, our American Thanksgiving does not have its roots in the cycle of seed time and harvest at all. Its beginnings are in a thanksgiving for which there was no bounty of earth.
Really, it was to show gratitude for survival after a bitter and harsh winter, and in anticipation of a repetition of that cruel winter that had taken nearly half the Colony of Puritans.
Thanksgiving is American. We share it only with our sister nation to the north, Canada, which observes its Thanksgiving day in October, before the snowfall.
However, we cannot be so naive as to believe we celebrate in church. Only a few churches are even open on this day. Instead, some families will make the excuse that they were having a big dinner at their house, and they just couldn't get to church.
That is as much as saying that those who are at worship have little or nothing to get ready for. And beside, it can be done. There are many people who will somehow manage to have time to give thanks in God's house.
What people do: But this has become a day when huge numbers of people draw aside to think of their blessings. In some way, at some moment in the great day, they will pause. Their prayer may be only a murmur of the heart, maybe only a breath they can't put into words.
But a few will stretch the capacity of their hearts to realize the blessings they share with those they love. Today, we must realize that it's the thankful heart that puts joy into this day.
Even if we choose the ceremonies of football and enormous dinners, the joy and the excitement come when we remember that there is a giver. There is one who gives and gives and gives.
He gives us freedom of body and soul. He gives the family that upholds us and fills us with love. He gives peace and satisfaction in the midst of the turmoil and pressures of life. He gives us a sense of accomplishment that says our labor and our love are worthy contributions to society.
Our gifts: He permits us to serve in his kingdom, and even says that the gifts we bring will help someone else be grateful to him.
Most of all, he permits us to live out our gratitude in lives of faithful service. He says that our gratitude can change the lives of others and enable them to share his love.
There is one idea that we Christians cannot easily shake from our minds: If life is given to us, if blessings are shown to us, then the secret of life, meaning and value is more in the giver than in the gift itself. The gift inspires the song of thanks.
A long time ago on a tiny island in the Mediterranean, a man sat in lonely exile, banished to a desolate place because of his faith in Christ, far from those with whom he yearned to share the glory of God.
With nothing to make his life rich, nothing to bring joy, nothing but the threat of lifelong loneliness, he wrote a song of thanksgiving. It ends this way: "Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns." (Revelation 19:6)
That may be the secret of Thanksgiving, not that we are blessed, but that even in our blessedness, the Lord God omnipotent reigns.
XThe Rev. Daniel Rohan is pastor of St. Mark Orthodox Church in Liberty.